Team Sky endured a quiet day on stage five at Tirreno-Adriatico as the riders look to days ahead.
A mountainous parcours was a tough ask for a squad which found themselves hamstrung on Saturday after the team’s major GC hope Thomas Löfkvist was forced out due to illness.
After collecting two spectacular back-to-back wins on stages two and three the team will look ahead to opportunities in the final two tests, as a result the remaining seven riders rolled in well down on the stage winner.
That man was Vincenzo Nibali who took a solo victory at the summit of the Prato di Tivo climb by a margin of 16 seconds from Roman Kreuziger (Astana) and race leader Chris Horner (RadioShack-Nissan).
The former Vuelta a Espana winner attacked an elite group of favourites with 3.8 kilometres of snow-lined road remaining on the most selective day of the race thus far.
A waiting game took place behind as the overall contenders looked at each other to close down Nibali in an elite group of 11 riders.
The result ensured Horner kept hold of the Maglia Azzura by a slender five seconds from Kreuziger heading into the final two stages of the ‘Race of Two Seas’.
After the stage Sports Director Servais Knaven admitted that with a squad of sprint talent and classics specialists the team were always likely to have their work cut out.
He said: “It was a tough stage today. Without Thomas we don’t have a real climber in the team so the guys did what they had to do. Especially Ian and Mathew who did a good ride today. They went well up that final climb.
“But everyone is happy that stage is over I think!”
Attention now turns to Monday’s penultimate stage and a 181km series of circuits around the town of Offida.
“We will see tomorrow how everyone has recovered after today and then we will make a plan for the final. If Eddy is feeling good we can give it a go with him,” Knaven added.
“It’s been a hard week and the peloton is getting tired. The GC is not decided yet but there are a lot of riders who are far behind so it’s also possible that a breakaway could go away and stay clear.”
On the toughest day of the race so far it was no surprise to see a breakaway move clear and build up a sizeable time gap in the process.
After an attacking start finally Kristof Goddaert (AG2R – La Mondiale), Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Jens Debusschere (Lotto-Belisol) forged ahead and built up a margin of 9:30.
Martinez was the last man to be caught with 10.5km to go but the 1450m final climb had taken its toll on a number of leading contenders; Cadel Evans (BMC) and Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone) all losing major time earlier on the ascent.
Joaquim Rodriquez (Katusha) was the first of the favourites to make a tentative attack, yet it was Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) who put in the biggest dig, the Italian eventually joined by an elite group of 11 riders.
With the contenders already softened up by the day’s penultimate climb of the Piano Roseto, it was Nibali who proved strongest to bounce back from disappointment on Saturday and claim victory.